NWN Spoiler-ratio : Slim to none.
NWN 3 : The chocolate-mishap.
"Thanks for listening to me, Linu," Alris said as the two elves sat in the peaceful Neverwinter woods, near the druid grove. The sun could barely be seen through the forest-canopy above, scaresly illuminating the forest-floor. The whole area radiated with serenity, it was a feast for the elven spirit.
"My pleasure, dear," the young elven cleric said while trying to dislodge a leaf from her chestnut brown hair. "Ouch," she said as the offending leaf got caught behind one of her curls.
"Need some help with that?" Alris asked friendly.
"No, no," Linu grimaced as she tossed the leaf, now having tuffts of curly long hair wrapped around it, to the ground. "Sometimes it's best to discuss these things with a fellow elf. I understand."
"It really helped getting my feelings out, even if it only was on a piece of paper," Alris smiled as he looked at the piece of paper which Linu had been reading. Poetry was an elven art, and Alris had shaped his emotions into words as way of dealing with them. An ode to Aribeth had taken form through his quill, and it was an immense relief to share it with another elf.
"Of course," Linu smiled, "the next step is actually telling her how you feel, dear."
"Hi, mates!" Tomi said as the roguish halfling sped from the bushes, disturbing the serenity of the grove. "Blimey, this forest sure is dull, innit? Give me a bloody city anytime of the bleedin' day..."
"You're talking to two elves, one of which being a ranger, dear," Linu chuckled. "You won't find someone who agrees with you. At least not here."
"Ach, don't tell me you actually LIKE all these bloody dead leaves. It's like a colossal graveyard here... and graveyards creep this halfling out," Tomi smiled. "Say!" the halfling said as he noticed something red sticking out of Alris' backpack. "What's that?"
Alris smiled and took a box from his pack. It was bright red and heart-shaped, about the size of a small shield. "Grade-A Cormyrian chocolate, made from cocoa-beans from the jungles of chult, fashioned by the finest pastry-chefs of Cormyr," Alris smiled. "It's a gift for Aribeth..."
"Ah, a traditionalist!" Tomi smiled. "The last gift I gave to a girlie was actually a pair of sexy underwear... I got some results too..."
"I can't believe giving a girl a piece of underwear has results," Linu muttered.
"Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it don't," Tomi grinned. "It didn't last time, though. She pulled the knickers over my head and pushed me into a river!"
"I know," Linu grinned wickedly. "Why don't you tell Alris the name of that girl, Tomi?"
"Errr," Tomi blushed slightly. "Sharwyn... It was Sharwyn, okay?"
"That was to be expected, dear," Linu shook her head, accidentally stepping on Tomi's toes when she shifted.
"Ow!" the halfling retorted. "Watch where you put those gigantic elven stompers, Linu! I have tiny and sensitive footsies!"
"Sorry, dear," Linu said quickly. "But, Alris, where did you get that chocolate from? All trade routes are closed now that Neverwinter quarantined.
"Well," Alris said, "remember Kasma, the gnomish adventurer we saved during Mutamin's challenge?"
"Oh, yes," Linu said. "Sweet girl holding a cat."
"She pointed me in the direction of a stranded trader from which I bought this box," Alris continued. "I put down quite an amount of gold for it, though, but Aribeth's smile will be worth every copper."
"How much?" Tomi asked with a sly grin. "More than a hundred? Big spender!"
"Actually," Alris chuckled. "It was more in the area of four thousand gold..."
"FOUR THOUSAND GOLD!" Tomi looked flabbergasted. "Have you gone completely BONKERS?!"
"I told you, you shouldn't tell anyone about the price of that box, dear," Linu smiled.
"Four thousand," Tomi shook his head, "If you had pointed that box out to me at the store, I would have been happy to nick it for you, you know?"
"Oh, a fine gift for a paladin," Linu snickered, "clandestine chocolates."
"You really are nuts about this girlie, ain't ya?" Tomi said. "And pretty smart too! Just mention the price of those chocolates and she'll have no choice but to put out! It's just the decent thing to do!"
"Tomi, please," Alris groaned.
"Go on, just give her the chocolates when you give her the diary and the two of your will be snogging like teenagers in heat in no time!" Tomi said.
Alris, now blushing violently red as the image of him liplocked with Aribeth popped into his mind and would not be put back in Pandora's box, was too stunned to reply at first. "I...I just want to give her a small gift, that's all..."
"Well, then," Tomi said, "let's get that diary back to that cute elf, then!"
"Tomi, dear," Linu said as she helped a smitten Alris to keep standing, "you are incorrigible..."
Stepping into Port Llast, Alris and friends first headed towards the barracks which had been set up from them by the soldiers of lord Nasher to get rid of their packs and other equipment, and at the same time, getting their newest member installed. Daelan Red Tiger, a noble half-orc barbarian of the Uthgard barbarian-tribes, had joined the party as a replacement for Grimgnaw.
Grimgnaw had been forced to leave the party after he had attacked Sharwyn. Apparently, the perky bard had given him one too many wedgies for him to remain cordial towards her. So far, the half-orc was working out great. He got along well with his fellow partymembers, and seemed to be bonding to Boddyknock the most. Also, he fought like a demon, often running up to the front lines while twirling his double-bladed axe.
But, Alris was also the first to exit their barracks. While he headed over to the building which acted as Aribeth's base of operations, he seemed to be walking on air. As soon as he entered, his eyes gazed upon her, the elf of his dreams. Aribeth was standing next to Aarin Gend, and they were apparently in a deep discussion about troop movements.
As soon as Aribeth spotted Alris, her rather sullen mood melted as snow in the sun. A warm smile invited Alris to step forward.
"Greetings, my dear friend," Aribeth spoke softly, while Aarin Gend turned to him as well. "I am happy to see you are safe and well..."
"Err, hi Aribeth!" Was Alris' nervous and less-than-suave opening line. Immediately, he handed the diary he had found to Aribeth, whom started to read and discuss it. But, as much as he loved the sound of Aribeth's voice, if had Aribeth told him there was a slathering Balor standing behind him, he would not have heard. Instead, Alris stared deeply into Aribeth's beautiful eyes.
"Is there anything you'd like to add, Alris?" Aarin Gend smirked, apparently having noticed Alris was holding a box of chocolates behind his back.
"Errr," Alris said, almost on the verge of hyperventilating when Aribeth looked upon him expectantly. "No, that's... that's it... Nothing more," he caved.
"Well, then, my friend," Aribeth smiled and gently took and squeezed Alris' hand slightly, making Alris ready to faint. "Please, be safe..."
'Chicken, coward, lame-ass,' Alris cursed to himself as he stepped out of the door... He would need to try again now.
And he soon got another chance. After sulking through town for a couple of minutes, he noticed Aribeth stepping out of the building and heading over to the fountain in the center of town. Feeling like an idiot, he followed her from a reasonable distance. He found her there, sitting at the fountain, dipping her hand in the water as she gazed at the horizon.
Using all his ranger-skills, he quietly approached her from behind, wanting this moment to be perfect. Only inches away from Aribeth, his nerves gave out... instead of giving her the chocolates, he all but ran back to the shadows.
Finding Aribeth in reverent prayer at the temple of Tyr, Alris had decided on a different attempt. He had put a large card which said 'To Aribeth from Alris, with love' on the box, and decided to leave the box where she would find it immediately. Right now, Aribeth was knelt to one knee in front of the altar, her head bowed down. It was the perfect moment to leave the box next to her and speed out of the temple.
Unfortunately, that wasn't how it turned out. Just before a very nervous Alris was about to put down the box, Aribeth finished her prayer... She stood up, and Alris stealthily snuck behind one of the columns quickly, watching her step into the portal back to town.
Again Alris made the attempt to leave the box for Aribeth to find. He had found her leaning on one of the fences of a local farm, looking at the cows graze. For him, it was the perfect opportunity to put the box right next to the elven paladin, on one of the bales of hay.
"MOOOOOO!!!!" a cow announced his presence when he had almost reached her, and he just managed to duck into a stable before Aribeth whirled around, shrugged and walked away.
The cow then had to bear the brunt of a number of elven obscenities. Even more so when Alris discovered he was standing in a cow-pat with both boots.
Finding it easier to exchange both boots by buying a new pair instead of cleaning them, he once again located Aribeth after a short search. The elven paladin was now standing at the edge of town, staring wistfully at the edge of the deep forest. This time, everything went smoothly. Using his ranger skills, the elf managed to sneak to right next to Aribeth and left the box of chocolates on top of the fence right next to her.
After creeping back to the corner of the building, he watched Aribeth with suspense, wondering how his gift would be received.
"Lady Aribeth!" one of the soldiers called out to her. "I have some information for you!"
Immediately, Aribeth twirled around and headed towards the soldier and, to Alris' dismay, never noticed the box of chocolates lying only inches away from her.
After gathering up the chocolates, he sighed deeply.
"Just give the box to her," sounded from behind him. Alris turned around and found Aarin Gend had snuck up on him. The dark spymaster was leaning on the fence, wearing an amused smile. "She'll love it. Take it from me."
"I'm just... too chicken, I guess... Too nervous..."
"Don't worry, my friend," Aarin said. "Aside from the occasional command-decisions, all she ever talks about is you..."
"R... really?" Alris said. "Me? But, but... I'm just, well, me... Hardly someone worth talking about..."
"You underestimate your effect on her, my friend," Aarin nodded and stalked back to the shadows.
Returning back to the barracks in the evening, Alris gently put the box of chocolates on his nightstand, staring at it as if it was a demon from the Abyss. It was meant to be a simple gift for Aribeth, but so far he was too scared to even present this simple gift to her.
"Having trouble, dear?" Linu asked as she noticed Alris when she was preparing her cot for the night.
"I just... can't give it to her!" Alris shook his head. "I... I FREEZE up whenever I try to!"
"You're afraid of her reaction, dear," Linu send an encouraging smile. "Don't worry so much. She already cares about you, and you care about her! What could possibly go wrong?"
"I don't know," Alris said, "and I really want to give it to her. But something just scares me... so much I can never actually do it!"
"Just give it to her and tell her how you feel," Linu said. "Honesty is the best recourse here, dear. Oh, I almost forgot," she said while fishing a piece of paper from her pouch. "I forgot to return you poem to you..."
At that precise moment, Tomi choose to enter the barracks.
"Allo, allo, allo," the halfling said. "Hide your daughters, cause Tomi has hit the town!"
"Why is your tunic all wet?" Alris asked the halfling.
"Oh, that's just due to an incident involving scotch, Sharwyn and a friendly pat on her... breast," Tomi grinned. "Worth it, though... Say, what's this piece of paper? Been writing notes of secret love to Boddyknock?" Tomi said, snatching the paper from Linu. Before the elf could stop him, he started to read... and laugh.
"HAH!" Tomi giggled as he read the poem. "'Her eyes like stars in the darkest of night' Oh, dear! 'The very avatar of elegance and grace!' Hah, what kind of sap writes stuff like this nonsense?!"
Immediately, Alris raised from the cot and stormed out of the room.
"Hey, where are you..." he said, just as he realized the source of the poem, "... going?"
"Nice, Tomi," Linu scowled.
"Oh, crap," Tomi sighed in regret.
"He put his feelings into words and poured his heart and spirit into that poem, dear," Linu added forcefully.
"Great," Tomi shook his head. "I feel like such a heel now.... Better go after him..."
Tomi followed Alris out of the door and found him sitting near one of the trees in the middle of town, simply staring at the many branches as if he was counting the leaves.
"You're right," Alris said, having heard Tomi approach as soon as the halfling stepped out of the barracks. "I am a sap. How could I ever think Aribeth would be interested in someone like me?" he said, sounding crestfallen. "Me, someone's who's afraid to even give her a box of chocolates. She's the one who's stalwart and brave. I'm just coward, not even worthy of standing in her shadow..."
"Look," Tomi said, sounding uncharacteristically serious, "I know I act like a clown all the time, but please take me seriously when I say that you are no coward. You're just shy..."
Alris snorted briefly.
"I mean it! Come on, have you ever seen yourself fight?!" Tomi grinned.
"What do you mean?" Alris asked.
"Come on," Tomi chuckled. "I've seen elves fight before, but DAMN! You twirl those blades as if there's no tomorrow. Why do you think we always let you go up front whenever there's a tiff?"
"Well, that's just fighting," Alris said. "I know how to fight... just not how to talk with Aribeth... and that's what truly matters."
"Ah, being in love for the first time has always been scary for just about anyone," Tomi said. "Even me, if you can believe it. You did pick a nice girl to fall for, though... I just love to tease you about it. It might spur you on, you know?"
"Aribeth..." Alris sighed. "Yes, she's the first girl I ever fell in love with. How did you know?"
"You chasing Aribeth around town trying to give her a 4000 gold box of chocolates was a big hint," Tomi grinned. "Look, just don't let this girl get away. She's already got a pretty good idea you have a romantic interest in her, and she has it for you too. Don't waste your chance, Alris. Don't let her slip away or you'll regret it for the rest of your life... And elves live for a loooooong time, matey."
"Yes," Alris said, offering Tomi a smile, "perhaps... Let's get back to the barracks?"
At the crack of dawn, Alris was up first like he usually was. Stretching in his bed, he glanced at the ceiling, still feeling a bit down from yesterday. He banished his bad feelings and rolled around on his side... only to notice the box of chocolates had disappeared from his nightstand... and that Tomi's bed was empty.
"Tomi," Alris whispered horrified.
Struggling to get his clothes on, Alris sped out of the barracks and headed directly towards Aribeth's private quarters. And there he found Tomi... putting down the box of chocolates at Aribeth's doorstep.
"Tomi!" Alris hissed as he caught up with Tomi.
"Hi, mate," Tomi grinned. "Guess you figured it out, huh?"
"What are you doing?!"
"Well, you've done me a few good turns and I acted like a pillock last night, so I took it on myself to leave your gift in front of Aribeth's doorstep so you can get a lovely snog off her, later!" Tomi replied.
"Are you crazy?"Alris grimaced. "Give it to me!" he said while he grabbed the box with both hands.
"Come on, mate!" Tomi grinned and grabbed the box too. "Leave it here! Come'on!"
At that precise moment, the door opened. And there stood Aribeth, fully armored and looking quite surprised to see Alris and Tomi standing in front of her doorstep holding a heart-shaped box.
"Hello?" Aribeth asked, wondering what was going on. Then, her eyes fell on the card on the box. 'From Alris to Aribeth, with love.'. "Is that for me?" Aribeth asked, took the box and opened it, while Alris looked on with horror.
"Oh!" she smiled broadly as she glanced at the contents of the box. "A gift of bon-bons! No one has ever given me chocolates before. Thank you, Alris!"
"Y-you... you're w-welcome," Alris muttered. "I...it ww-was my p-p-pleasure..."
"What's this?" Aribeth said as she took a small piece of paper out of the box.
"My poem?" Alris turned bright red now as he spoke to Tomi. "You... you put my poem in the box?"
Tomi answered with a grin.
"You wrote this, Alris?" Aribeth smiled, then started to read. It was impossible to miss the appearance of a reddish blush on her cheeks as she did. "Thank you, Alris," she finally whispered.
"Err, ah, um, eh," was Alris' eloquent reply.
"Come in for a while, Alris? Please?" Aribeth asked.
As Alris complied, Tomi shot him a sly grin. "Tell her how much the chocolates cost ya, mate, and she'll give ya a snog," he whispered.
Alris ignored him, however, and followed Aribeth into her private quarters. They were small, but comfortable and spartan except for a small cot, a stand for her armor, a small dresser and a table with two chairs. About a dozen potted plants stood strewn across the room. In fact, the only strange thing in her room was a banner of Tyr, of which the fabric seemed to have been deliberately ripped a bit.
Aribeth reverently put the box on the table and carefully put the poem between the pages of her private journal which was also lying on the table. Then, she took one of the delicate chocolates and put in her mouth. She seemed to be savoring the candy as she had her eyes closes as she chewed.
'Okay, okay, okay, okay, now what?!' Alris thought nervously. 'Next is... smalltalksmalltalksmalltalk...'. "So," he finally managed to stammer. "we were talking about your armor the other day," he started, mentally slapping himself in the face for picking that subject.
"Ah," Aribeth eyes lit up with gentle amusement, "you were wondering why I am wearing such a seemingly useless armor?"
"Well," Alris blushed, "Sharwyn keeps bringing it up at campfires."
"Touch my neck," Aribeth smiled gently.
"Wha-wha-wha?" Alris gasped at the prospect.
"I'm dead serious," Aribeth chuckled. "Try it, Alris..."
Gulping, Alris raised a shaky hand and took a few steps towards the elven paladin. His mind was slowly dissolving as he stepped even closer to the beautiful elven female. The ranger's index-finger had almost reached the nape of Aribeth's neck.
"YOUCH!" Alris jumped out of his daydream as a blue static electric field lit up and numbed his entire hand. But he was more surprised than hurt.
"I'm sorry," Aribeth smiled. "This is a magic armor, after all. My head and exposed flesh are protected by a strong magical forcefield which I can control at will through the armor. It's just a sensible precaution"
"I see," Alris returned the smile, rubbing his hand. "But why an open platemail?"
"Two reasons, really," Aribeth offered. "The first is that, as a paladin, I know that the henchmen of evildoers are usually men of low intelligence, and it is easy for such to be, ah, distracted..."
"You know what I mean," Aribeth chuckled. "You halfling friend always gets very distracted when I step into the room... It gives me an advantage when the men don't stare at my weapon, or worse, my eyes. The eyes can give away a lot during combat..."
"I wouldn't mind looking into your eyes all day," Alris said dreamily.
"The, ah, second reason," Aribeth continued while the color of her cheeks turned a little more rosier, "that I can put on this armor without help. My breastplate is basically two halves put together with straps. Were it normal full plate, I would need help putting it on. As it is now, I can strap it on by my own and within less than ten minutes. The only concern left is if I, ah, went before putting it on. You won't have that trouble with your light elven chainmail, but I need ten minutes to remove it, after all."
"But what about the spikes on your pauldron?"
"Ah, well," Aribeth smiled. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Isn't, you know, distracting fighting unfair?" Alris stammered.
"You don't know how often I'm asked that," Aribeth chuckled. "Isn't it right to us all your, ahum, assets when locked into mortal combat? Truth be told most people who meet me for the first time only look at either my chest or my ears..."
"Or your eyes," Alris said dreamily.
"I've noticed that when we first met at your graduation, Alris," Aribeth blushed and stepped forward. "Thank you for your sweet gift," she said while she bent forward. Alris felt himself melt into a blush puddle as Aribeth closed her eyes and brushed her sweet lips to his. Though their brush of lips only lasted less than three seconds, for Alris and Aribeth, it lasted a sweet eternity.
"Shall we," Aribeth asked, her face as flushed as that of Alris, "sit here, share some chocolates and chat for a while?"
And as the morning progressed, Alris wondered why had been so nervous in the first place.
Part 3 : The chocolate-mishap
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